Music for the Weekend #009 — Play it Again, Sam – Yacht μ-zique (the advent of Jazz-Rock)
Yacht. Lately this word has been conjured up so much that on Spotify it even serves to label a certain type of music but being really sincere I leave here my opinion that it might as well be just one more marketing ploy. Reshape-remodel of what was already known as AOR (Album Oriented Rock for some Adult Oriented rock for others but which is nothing more than a combo of rock, jazz, a pinch of soul and a touch of folk) so you can upload some back catalog, the music world is full of these things that end up with Nice Price or Special Discount stickers. All this so much in vogue that recently even the irreducible The Jazz Pit surrendered to fashion and sailing at Mixcloud from Dublin in a cast dedicated to the theme sank in murky waters.
The term Yacht was coined by J.D. Ryznar in 2005 when he invented a series of mockumentaries that addressed the creative process of music created by such bands as Steely Dan, Toto and Doobie Brothers or composers Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald. I am therefore talking about some iconic themes appreciated by the Estoril and Cascais “betos” but which at the same time continued to be heard in Balearic compilations well after its “expiry date” by anyone who saw a sunset in Ibiza while there on vacation. But is it really a scheme to sell us music that we already know? And if not what is the origin of this soundtrack with such incredible longevity?
In the mid-seventies of the last century America lived an unstable reality, the conclusion of the Vietnam war, the oil crisis, a president caught with his pants down (Bill Clinton still far away, I’m talking about Richard “Tricky Dicky” Nixon). Americans in general felt for the first time that they were not the big honchos of this world and an escapist soundtrack was in the making that would snatch the sales charts. But this soft rock was intelligent and virtuoso, something that has not happened much more in the history of popular music’s Top 20. At its base is a fusion of Jazz-Rock and lyrics of a sensitivity that leads us to stroll through strange and hidden places on the human map.
I start with Steely Dan, Walter Becker and Donald Fagen on their first album Can’t Buy a Thrill and finish with only Fagen with a track from his latest studio album Sunken Condos. My eastender friend Samuel Bergliter, nephew of the composer Lionel Bart and who co-produced my first LX90 album, told me one day that he thought Donald Fagen was making dance music for intellectuals. Becker and Fagen started their 70s writing songs almost by the meter at the request of Kenny Vance who had a small office in the Brill Building that served as the headquarters of many Tin Pan Alley companies. The winds of luck would blow favourably when Vance’s associate Gary Katz moved to LA as a producer for ABC Records and quickly found a way to get the pair to California. Katz would record with Roger Nichols all the records of Steely Dan’s first phase, that is, until Gaucho in 1980. Nichols received 6 Grammys for these 7 records. Boom Jack, not a bad score.
In contrast, most of the hull, keel and rudder of this compilation serve to drift away to a few more coordinates:
First I have to disagree that this is an exclusive West Coast sound. It would be, if only the USA existed in the world atlas. Geographically, there are even more marinas where this boat can be docked … so I chose something more Adriatic, another being more like a wave in Okinawa, from Guanabara to the Danube snaking its flow closer to Serbia. Because we can hear singing in Italian or French in this story where even a puddle of water serves to embark the protagonists.
Second, I also have to say that it is not made only by men, as the most academic minds defend, like Katie Puckrik in a two-part documentary broadcast on BBC4. My God, the inclusion of Joni Mitchell may seem far-fetched but it is contextual, lyrically The Hissing Of Summer Lawns is a true blueprint for what would come, as for Jardim Zoologico we just have to listen to it to understand that Lena D’Água certainly rocks the boat so has all the requirements to sail this playlist.
Third, by avoiding the inclusion of Christopher Cross’s Sailing for obvious reasons, I include Gino Vannelli’s Jack Miraculous at the bow, who usually has more than two “yachts” per disc but here shows more of his inclination for jazz-rock. I also invoke the Kane Gang who were from the Northeast of England but who do not deceive anyone in their sonic ambitions. Finally I begin to lift the anchor by highlighting three very recent compositions: Show You The Way, where Thundercat joins McDonald and Loggins, Not Enough by Benny Sings, one of the most underestimated composers of today’s pop music and also the excellent Kids of Young Gun Silver Fox that hoisted sails in February this year. I think that this alone is ample proof that whatever we decide to call this music genre it still has a lot of maritime miles ahead…
I hope you don’t feel too sea sick with so much doobie bounce over the weekend.